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If you have not yet read Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, what are you waiting for?  Seriously.  You need to read it.  If you’re thinking about making a change in your life but you’re too chicken to go for it, you need to read it.  If you ever find yourself thinking that your life is kinda…well…boring, then you need to read it.  If you want to be inspired to do something great, you need to read it.  Just read it already, and tell me what you think in the comments below.

Another entry from my personal journal that I wrote during my treatment.  These were written for no one’s eyes but mine, to sort out my thoughts and try to make sense of what I was going through.  I haven’t edited them – what you see is exactly how it appears in the journal, whether it makes sense or not.

Written February 21, 2010:

“For the past week or so I have been experiencing insomnia for the first time in my life.  It’s crazy, because I know that I am tired, but I lie in bed at night unable to sleep.  My mind begins to race, and so many things appear- I don’t know if it is anxiety or an actual physical side effect from chemo.  Tonight I spent an hour thinking about my next doctor’s appointment – describing my side effects to the nurse, hearing the results of the tests, determining if I will need more chemo treatments or radiation.  I think this upcoming PET/CT has me all bent out of shape.  I’m afraid of what the outcome will be, even though the outcome is bound to be better than what it was two months ago.  At my last PET/CT you could actually see the lumps protruding from at least two places in my neck, and now those lumps are completely gone.  You could also hear my dry, hacking cough – a result of all the swollen lymph nodes in my chest that were imposing on my lungs.  Now that cough is gone.  There’s no reason to think that we will hear anything other than good news as a result of this test.  I really want to hear that the cancer is in remission, but I’m afraid that it won’t be.  I wonder if I will feel this fear with every CT for the next few years.  Once the cancer is in remission, will I forever fear it’s return?  Maybe this would be a good thing to see a therapist about, I don’t know.

We’ve had a lot of changes since September.  My in-laws moved in.  Our daughter was born.  I have cancer now.  Our whole house has actually physically changed.  We have all new furniture, new rooms, new arrangements of things in our rooms, new things for our daughter – everything looks different.  It’s like our life isn’t our own anymore, even  though we chose a lot of the changes.

Now that I have  cancer, I  feel like a different person.  I realized that I like my life, and want to keep it.  Although I also I also realized that I really will die someday.  I mean I really realized it.  Like hard core.  There’s a lot more I’d like to do with my life than what I’m actually doing right now.  I’d like to sing.  I’d like to volunteer.  I’d like to be a better friend.  I’d like to write more.  I’d like to write something valuable – at least publishable – and make an income that way.

Something that keeps running through my mind is if I were to die, what would I want my kids to know?  What would I leave behind for them, if I could?  I’d definitely want my son to know that I love him with a force that I could not have imagined before he entered my life.  And I’m finding with my daughter that every day I know her my love grows stronger.  I know that she will soon smile up at me, and I look forward to that day with all my soul.  But aside from know that I loved them, there are certain lessons I want to leave with my kids.  I want  them to behave well, respect other, listen with their hearts.  I want them to see through others’ eyes, to have compassion, to love and be active in giving of themselves.  I want them to know that love is everything.  Not romantic love, but true selfless, accepting love.  I want them to have courage, to have faith.  To know that each disappointment is not the end of the road – everything passes.  There are seasons to life, and everything passes.”

August 2010 Update:  At the next appointment a couple of weeks later I learned that my cancer was, in fact, in remission.  Score!  But I also learned that my cancer was upgraded from stage 2 to stage 4, and that I would need two months more chemo than I originally thought.  Bummer!  I did end up talking to a therapist about my feelings of anxiety, which, of course, were/are perfectly normal for what I was/am going through.  And yes, I will probably be afraid of occurrence for the rest of my life, and I will be extra nervous before each scan.    Just something I have to deal with.

I said a few months ago that I would soon be posting some journal entries from my cancer journey so I could have them all in one place.  These are some of those.

Written sometime in January, 2010:

“I can’t stop crying.  It’s 11:50 and my baby is asleep.  I should be asleep too, but I can’t.  it’s like the bad news is finally settling in.  I have cancer.  I don’t know why I have it, but I have it.  I’m fighting it.  Truth be told, I’m actually feeling much better than I expected to feel over these past six weeks or so.  it’s almost like I’ve been on a strange sort of vacation.  Hey – get cancer and  get paid time off.  Want more time with your family?  Get cancer!  It works every time!  I’ve been feeling inexplicably good.  A little yucky for a few days after chemo treatments, but other than that I’ve had lots of energy, been in great spirits…I’ve not lost any hair at all from chemo.  I’ve been doing amazingly well.  The only explanation I can think of is that people’s prayers and healing energy have been keeping me afloat.  But suddenly tonight I feel like the boat is sinking.  I’m tired and overwhelmed.  I don’t feel inspired or energized.  I’m full of contradictions.  I’m tired but I can’t sleep.  I eating even though I’m not hungry.  I want to be in control and lose control.  The last couple of days have been mental and emotional darkness.  I feel angry at everyone and sad and sensitive.  I don’t know if it’s a phase or if it’s permanent.  I guess we’ll see what tomorrow is like.”

And scribbled hard in pen at the bottom of the page, circled about a million times:

“I DON’T WANT THIS CANCER ANYMORE DO YOU HEAR ME?

Coincidence? I think not.

Well, it’s another night of insomnia.  Chemo today = steroids that keep me awake, even as the actual chemo drugs cause fatigue.  It’s some kind of cruel medical joke, but one that lets me lay in bed and do a lot of thinking, and sometimes writing, before turning in.

I guess you can see that the blog got a new look tonight.  I needed something happier.  I hope you like it.

You know, when I was laying in bed realizing that I wasn’t going to be falling asleep anytime soon, I started thinking about a whole bunch of things.  I thought about how I should write more, and how I really want to get my kids’ scrapbooks started and finish the sewing projects I’ve had sitting untouched on the dining room table for several weeks now.  I thought about how I’d love to redecorate our bedroom – or CLEAN our bedroom, for that matter.  And I wondered for the umpteenth time how to get months-old milk stains off of red painted nursery walls.

After a while of going on like this, I started thinking about less trivial things, like coincidences, blessings, and community.  I’m a big believer in coincidences that aren’t really coincidences.  I think coincidences are a gift from God – his way of bringing certain knowledge or blessings into our lives when we need them the most.  They are small things that may be meaningless to someone else, but when they happen to us, given our time, place, and circumstances, they are big and powerful.  We’ve all had those moments.  Think about the last time you had a coincidence happen in your life.  What connections did it help you make.  Did it affirm something?  Did it give  you peace?  Did it lead you to a new path or person?  Did it help you grow?

Looking back on the last several months, I can remember several coincidences that I won’t get into here, but which have served to give me greater peace, love, and support in the moments I have most needed them.  I can also think of one coincidence in particular where it was clear that my hubby and I were the ones giving support and peace to a complete stranger, and I think I speak for both of us when I say that being on the giving end of the moment didn’t make it any less meaningful for us.  Coincidences can feel truly magical. They are a way of helping us make meaning in our lives – a way of pushing us to question, connect, take risks, wonder, and mature.  But we can’t experience the wonder of coincidence if our hearts aren’t open to the possibility that they happen for a reason.  And we can’t be open to that possibility without also being open to the idea that maybe – just maybe – there is someone bigger than ourselves out there.  Someone who is designing our lives to be interconnected and beautiful.

Leave me a comment to tell me about the last time you remember experiencing coincidence in your life.   How did that experience affect you, if at all?  Am I crazy to believe that coincidences have meaning?  What do you think?

Backtracking

On December 11, 2009 I was in the food court at a local mall with some of my colleagues, on a lunch break from our professional development workshop, when my doctor called to tell me I had cancer.
The rest of that day is somewhat of a blur.  The phone calls to break the news.  The sadness.  The panic.  The love.    I haven’t been doing a great job of documenting everything that has happened since then.  I have written about the experience several times, but not all in one place.  I’m going to condense the info here on my blog, so that I don’t lose any of it, and then I’m going to try to remember every detail.
I don’t want to forget any of this.
First, an e-mail that I sent to family and friends at 9:19 pm on December 12, 2009
Dear Friends and Family,

I am writing to share with you both good news and bad news.  First, the good news: it is very likely that by this Monday morning, we will be holding our newborn baby girl, Claudia Sofia.  I’ll be checking in to the hospital tomorrow morning for an induced delivery.  We are so thrilled to be able to meet her even sooner than we expected, and we can’t wait to share her pictures with you all.

Unfortunately, the reason we need to deliver her early is not so joyous.  Some of you already know that I have been undergoing some medical tests in the last couple of weeks, including a lymph node biopsy.  We learned yesterday that the results are not in line with what we were hoping or expecting to hear.  I received a diagnosis of Classic Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – a type of immune system cancer that usually strikes in young adulthood.  Needless to say, it has been a very difficult 24 hours for our family, as we are trying to process this news.  We have been riding a roller-coaster of emotions and we have a load of questions that we don’t have answers for yet.  At this time I do not know what stage the cancer is in, what type of treatment I will receive, or for how long.  I only know that we need to work on getting me better as quickly as possible, and the first step in getting me better is delivering the baby.  We will be meeting with my oncologist after we check in to Winnie Palmer (the hospital where I’ll deliver the baby), in order to start making decisions related to my treatment.  I’ll probably have to go through all the normal cancer treatments – chemo, radiation, etc., and I know it’s not going to be easy.  However, I have always been strong in body and faith, and I know that I can take what’s coming, however difficult it may be.  The good news is that Hodgkin’s is a very well-understood and highly treatable form of cancer, with a very high survival rate, and we also have a very strong support network of family and amazing friends to help us through this.


You probably don’t know what to say or how to react, and that’s ok.  We don’t know either.  We are first-timers with this sort of thing.  Many people have been asking us what we need.  My response is this:  I know that we will get through this, but in order to do so we are going to need a lot of love and support.  I have never been good at reaching out and asking people for help, companionship, distractions, laughs, etc., but I know that I am going to need all of those things in the coming months.  I am going to try to get better at asking, but my natural tendency is to be more of a home-body.  Edgard and I are going to need people to surround us, drag us out of the house, show up unexpectedly with funny movies, call us until we’re so annoyed we have to answer the phone, talk openly about the cancer and joke about it with us in order to take it’s power away, and all those sorts of things to help us feel normal and remember that there is so much more to life than this mountain we’ll be climbing for a while.

More than anything, please surround Edgard and let him know he’s loved.  I know that he will be feeling the pressure of being a caretaker to me, our babies, his parents who now live with us, and our pets.  He’ll be the only breadwinner for a while, and I know that will be difficult for him as well.  And of course, he is very worried about me, as anyone naturally would be for his or her spouse.  No one gets married thinking that the “sickness” part of the vows will happen this soon, and no one wants to see a loved one suffer.  Please reach out to Edgard, if you know him and feel comfortable doing so.  He will need it very much.

I am so sorry to be telling you all this via e-mail.  I would love to be able to call each and every one of you and tell you personally, but the truth is that we are running out of time to do that, and I need your positive thoughts and prayers ASAP.  We’ll be waking up early tomorrow to make it to the hospital by 7 am, and from then on I have a feeling that there is going to be a whirlwind of action in our lives.  We know that you are here for us and we will be thinking of all of you.   You are our support system.  I hope to have a chance to talk with each of you in the coming days.

If we don’t talk before Christmas, please know that we love all of you, and we wish you a beautiful Christmas with your loved ones.

Warmest wishes,

Melodie and Edgard Robelo

Cancer Prayer

I wrote the following in a private moment on December 26, after the most depressing Christmas of my life. I was too upset to speak the words aloud, so I wrote my prayer instead, tears streaming down my cheeks, after everyone else had gone to bed. Fast forward to this morning: my husband and I are sitting in bed talking about why bad things happen to good people – namely, us. I decide to share this with him. He tells me that it is beautiful and I need to share it with others. I trust his judgment, so here it is (grab a Kleenex):

Saturday, December 26, 2009
Dear Lord, I thank you for the powerful love of family and friends – a gift that comes directly through you. Thank you for showing me how much you love me by showing me how much others love me. Please let me always see and experience that love with new eyes, and may it never grow stale to my soul. Lord, I don’t understand why you’ve given me this gift of cancer, but you do. I don’t know what the road is that I have ahead of me, but you do. Lord, I am so afraid of leaving my family behind on this earth. I’m sure life in heaven with you is wonderful, but I’m not ready to join you yet. I want to hold my son a few thousand more times, and watch my daughter take her first steps. I want to see so much more of both their lives, and let them know just how much they are loved. You know that already, Lord. You already know the desires of my heart, and while sometimes you have different plans for us than we have for ourselves, I cannot believe for one second that you would ask me to leave my loved ones behind. No Lord, I choose to believe that you have given me this gift to help strengthen my soul and others’ faith. I choose to believe that I will come through with a story to share, and that story will help draw others closer to you. I choose to believe that you will use me as an illustration of your love. I don’t feel worthy of such a job, but I know that you have chosen me for a reason and you will arm me with all that I need to be a testament to you. Thank you again for providing me with so many earth angels, who will continually redirect me to your arms. Amen.

Monsters

I remember the first time I saw a homeless person.  I was a little girl, no more than seven years old.  I was walking with my mom and dad through Albany’s Empire State Plaza.  A  man there was performing what appeared to be magic tricks, or possibly dance moves.  There was a bundle of clothes and belongings stashed behind him on a concrete ledge.  I thought he was funny at the time.

I had heard of homeless people, but I had never seen one.  Homeless people were, to me, strangers.   Others.  They were dangerous and dirty.  They were monsters, really.  Just as so many others who are different from ourselves become monsters in our minds eye when our true vision fails us.

I remember the moment of confusion I felt when my dad told me  that the funny man was homeless.  The information did not compute.  It couldn’t be possible.  The man I saw that day – he was not a monster.  He was not dirty, and he didn’t seem dangerous. The realization that he was so much like us literally brought tears to my eyes.  As I walked with my parents away from that man, I cried.  I cried for so many reasons that I could not understand then, and still don’t understand today.

I’ve been ignoring the evening news for the last two weeks.  I have enough going on in my own life.  As strong as I try to be, I am suffering.  I am grieving the loss of my health and cursing this disease that has riddled my body.  I’m spending a lot of my time trying not to be terrified.  The last thing I want is to hear about more suffering in distant corners of the world, where people are poor and look different from me.  Places where people don’t speak my language. It’s easier just to keep walking away.

Tonight, against my better judgment, I watched the benefit concert for the people of Haiti.  Between performances by self-important celebrities I saw footage showing the real faces of  real people who are grieving the loss of their country, their loved ones, their homes.  I saw the faces of people cursing the earth and the skies – men, women, and countless children trying hard not to be terrified.  I saw the faces of the orphans, and I imagined my son sitting among them.

I didn’t see any monsters.  And once again, I cried.

Adam and Eve

Here’s something I don’t understand about the creation story – why are there two versions of it? In the first one, God creates the light, the dark, the water, the sky, the plants, the animals, and then humans. In the first account of creation, when God decides to make humans, we read this:
“God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of the Earth. God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature.”

In the second one, God creates Adam out of the dirt, then decides Adam needs a helper. God proceeds to create all the other animals and have Adam name them. None of them are suitable as Adam’s companion, so God finally creates Eve from Adam’s rib. I get how poetic that part really is, when you think about it. God gives Adam a job to do and makes him spend a long time alone doing this particular job, so that when Eve finally appears in his life, Adam can truly appreciate the beautiful gift of her companionship. After spending so much time in solitude trying to think of names for all the animals, I can imagine that he would have felt a lot of love and gratitude to have another person in his life. That’s a beautiful message when you really think about it.

But really, to me, that is one of the only parts of the second creation story that makes any sense, unless we think about it in a new and different way. If humans were created in the image of God and made responsible for all other life forms, how was it that a lower life-form – a serpent – was so easily able to trick Eve into eating the fruit? If she really was made in God’s image, wouldn’t she be able to see right through his deception? Because humans were supposedly made in the image of God, I have trouble understanding and accepting the concept of original sin as we know it. I think maybe the serpent’s role is not really the point of the story. And maybe we Christians have been basing our belief system on a misunderstanding of what sin really is.

Eckhart Tolle says that the word “sin” is derived from a Greek word having to do with archery, meaning “to miss the mark.” Defining sin as “missing the point” of life rather than “disobeying God’s commands” makes a whole lot of sense to me. And I think that maybe the mark we were supposed to hit was learning to love and appreciate the beauty in our relationships with other people. I think of how many ways I fall short of that goal in my own life. I know I’m not the only one. We all fall short; we all fail to love as well as we could. It has been this way since time began, since Adam and Eve. Even after all his time spent alone it didn’t take long for Adam to stop appreciating Eve and start blaming her instead for the outcomes of his own poor choices. I think that maybe the real original sin was not Eve’s decision to eat the fruit & share it with her husband, but Adam’s reaction to God’s line of questioning. Adam says to God, “The woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree and yes, I ate it.” He blames not only Eve for giving him the fruit, but God, for giving him Eve as a companion in the first place. This is a man with only two relationships in his life, and he goes and makes a stupid comment that is damaging to both of them.  Adam created the first in a long line of dysfunctional relationships.  Maybe he, not Eve, was the one who missed the point.

It’s interesting to me that Jesus spent 33 years walking the earth, creating relationships with the unloved and teaching people how to remove the dysfunction from our relationships with one another, yet so many Christians focus their attention on Jesus’ death instead of his life.  Jesus died to free us from original sin.  If original sin was simply disobedience, and Christ’s death is really the key, why was it necessary for Jesus to live so long and teach so much about love?  He could have died an infant and accomplished the same goal.    But if our original sin was one of relational dysfunction, rather than disobedience, then Christ’s life and death both make a lot more sense to me.

I have been keeping up with my resolution to read the Bible in it’s entirety. In case anyone wants to keep up with me, the version I’m using is called The Daily Message: Through the Bible in One Year, by Eugene Peterson. For anyone who doesn’t know, The Message is a translation that presents the stories of the Bible in modern-day language. It presents a fresh perspective on some rather old and sometimes tedious material.

2009 Top Ten

Last year’s resolutions didn’t exactly go as planned.  I don’t even remember what most of them were, which leads me to conclude with a fair degree of certainty that they not only remain unmet, but were likely less important than I cared to believe when I set them.  There are two in particular that I do remember, the outcomes of which leave me simultaneously patting myself on the back and kicking myself in the ass.  Yes, I most definitely do celebrate the fact that I did not use a credit card for a single purchase all year! At the same time I regret that once again, I did not try hard enough to lose those extra 20 or so pounds that have been slowing creeping up on me since mid 2006.  I suppose I can give myself an extension on that assignment, considering that I did spend 8 of the last 12 months creating another human life.  You’ll find weight loss and other resolutions on my New Year’s Top Ten List.  Feel free to post your own.  At the end of this year we can all compare notes about how badly we’ve failed ourselves.

Mel’s List:

1.  Write and send a thank you note within a week of receiving a gift.

2.  Remember to water the g-damn plants.

3.  Stop cussing around my kid.

4.  Answer the phone when friends and family call.

5.  Return phone calls and e-mails right away.

6.  Lose 25 pounds in 25 weeks.  (January 5 – June 30 2009)

7.  Read through the entire Bible over the course of the year.

8.  Blog at least weekly.

9.  Walk for 20 minutes or more, six days out of the week.

10.  Pay off 1/3 of the Robelos’ combined credit card debt.

August 2010 Update:  Number 10, that’s a big ol’ checkedy check!  Numbers 1-9, I’m not gonna give up on you!